GTM #269 - Stellar Horizons
by Compass Games


 Stellar Horizons cover art


Stellar Horizons Interview with Designer Andrew Rader

While Stellar Horizons is a science-fiction game, your career is remarkably similar right here in 2022. Could you share a bit about how you discovered your love of engineering and found yourself a SpaceX Mission Manager? 

 It’s interesting that you mention that. I started developing Stellar Horizons at the same time I decided on my career path. I have always been interested in Star Trek and science fiction, but I thought “real space” was kind of boring. We will never travel faster than light. We wouldn’t get to meet the aliens and have adventures like Captain Kirk or Picard. So what was the point of going out there? But, I kept having conversations with a really influential friend who argued humanity should go to Mars. He bought me a persuasive book called The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin (highly recommended!) and changed my mind. I had originally gone into aerospace engineering because I was into airplanes, but this experience and book really set my sights on advancing the future of human spaceflight. I remember sitting beside a pool reading the book, and it was an epiphany, all the pieces fell into place.

 Going to Mars is something we can actually do without breaking the laws of physics using the technology we already have. It would be the interim step to getting humanity to span the solar system and eventually develop Star-Trek-like technology. If we want to get to Star Trek, we have to do the things we can now with the technology we have. That’s how technology has always worked. Early explorers sailed the oceans with small coastal craft that were unsuitable for Atlantic crossings, because that’s what they had at the time. By crossing oceans and establishing settlements and trade routes on the other side, the stimulus for technological development was created and so we have the transportation technologies that we have today. Think of the things that make us modern: airplanes, cars, railroads, steamships, telecommunications networks, rockets: they’re all technologies to efficiently move products, people, and ideas. SpaceX is at the pinnacle of that technology, which is what drove me to work here.

 Solar System illustration

For those readers who aren’t familiar with Stellar Horizons yet, how would you describe its premise in a nutshell? 

 Stellar Horizons is a “build your own space program game” that follows the expansion of humans into our solar system over the next 140 years. I’m not convinced that we’ll ever find a way to circumvent the laws of physics to invent things like transporters or faster than light travel, so Stellar Horizons sticks firmly to technologies that we know could theoretically work but we haven’t figured out the details yet – things like fusion power, antimatter, and cryogenically freezing humans for long voyages across space.

The game has been described as being similar to Sid Meier’s Civilization, and indeed it uses a tech tree that functions in the same way. I think it could definitely be described as a successor – that series was one of my favorites growing up. In terms of how the space race into the solar system plays out, it’s reminiscent of the age of exploration between 1492-1815 (a favorite historical period of mine), when you had great powers competing to fill the power vacuum of territorial expansion and the development of global trade networks.   

    Stellar Horizons board art

If you could offer new players three tips for spacefaring success, what would they be?

  • At the start of the game: explore, explore, explore. And definitely chase down your missions – they’re worth extra income and extra points, which is a double bonus.
  • In the middle of the game: don’t be afraid to start building settlements as early as you can to benefit from as many turns as possible of population growth.
  • Toward the end of the game: try to find a place where you’re going to get maximum points from settlement growth to focus on. Ideally, this will be a place where you can terraform and where you can guard from your potential opponents.

 Solar System artwork

Finally, rumors abound about your next steps with this line. Care to share any behind-the-scenes information with our fair readers?

 Yes! I have an expansion for Stellar Horizons in the queue, but I actually think the next step is to expand beyond our solar system outward across the galaxy into humanity’s future as a starfaring civilization. I’m really excited about Stellar Horizons II, which tells the story of the five hundred years after Stellar Horizons, from around 2200-2700, spanning the Star Trek era and beyond. In development, I’ve incorporated the feedback from players of Stellar Horizons, to make Stellar Horizons II a more streamlined game to learn, while retaining and actually increasing the flavor in terms of the development of our species across the far-flung reaches of space. Stellar Horizons II retains a focus on exploration and settlement with optional combat, but adds the exciting prospect of genetically customizing your species in a variety of ways to optimize it for long-duration space travel and to thrive in a diverse array of planetary environments.

Stellar Horizons won the Charles S. Roberts Award for Best SciFi Fantasy Board Wargame in 2020 and is now available from Compass Games.


Brittani-Pearl MacFadden is a lifelong gamer who puts her strategic skills to the test each day in the realm of tabletop marketing. She enjoys reading, baking, camping, and listening to scary stories on her kayak adventures.

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